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SocietyGuarding a Heritage: A Bid to protect Mawlid through UNESCO

Guarding a Heritage: A Bid to protect Mawlid through UNESCO

Mawlid holds immense cultural and historical significance for Ethiopia’s Muslim community. It serves not only as a religious observance but also encompasses intricate traditions that have been passed down through generations. Through complex rituals like Menzuma poetry performances and structured coffee ceremonies, Mawlid nurtures a sense of shared identity and communal spirit.

In the bustling heart of Sumale Tera Merkato, Imam Saeed Ahmed leads his community in the joyous celebration of Mawlid, a cherished tradition that commemorates the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. For Saeed, this observance holds a profound meaning beyond religious significance; it is a journey intertwined with childhood memories, familial happiness, and a deep-rooted connection to his faith.

Saeed passionately shares his love for Mawlid, a celebration that has been a part of his life since childhood, echoing the festive spirit he experienced in the countryside alongside his father. The joy he and his family feel during this sacred occasion serves as a testament to the cultural and spiritual importance that Mawlid holds.

Carrying on a tradition from his father, Imam Saeed skillfully leads Menzuma – poetic compositions set to intricate melodies – that engage the rapt congregation, adding a melodious layer to the festivities. Comprising over 300 poems, Menzuma transforms the celebration into a shared moment of communal devotion through song.

Reflecting on the intricate nature of Menzuma, Saeed acknowledges the time and effort required for mastery. Despite facing challenges, including skepticism from others, he remains steadfast in his commitment to preserving this cultural and religious heritage.

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Saeed envisions a broader recognition of Mawlid’s cultural significance, expressing his hope for its inclusion on the esteemed list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The ongoing efforts to register Mawlid on the world stage demonstrate not only a personal aspiration but also a collective endeavor to safeguard Ethiopia’s rich cultural tapestry.

Mohammad Ali (PhD), a folklore lecturer at Addis Ababa University, sheds light on the structured processes that define Mawlid.

From the ceremonial reception and gift exchanges to the intricate artistry of Menzuma, Mawlid unfolds as a multifaceted celebration organized through a series of complex events.

The festivities extend beyond religious observances. Beyond religious rites, participants don traditional garb expressing identity or occasions. Markets burst to life as craftspeople and vendors enliven exchanges. Generous donations (those contributing Sadaqa or gifts) cover the Islamic center’s extensive lodging for many pilgrims, showcasing communal support underpinning Mawlid.

As evening falls, the coffee ceremony assumes focus, guided by structured rituals. Attended by respected elders, ulama and scholars, it follows a choreographed order emphasizing respect and cultural significance. The gathering offer a chance to exchange ideas on faith and civic issues over the brew.

Guests are treated to coffee, khat leaves and “Gomi” – a reconciliation tradition. Elders offer blessings highlighting Mawlid’s rich cultural tapestry, intoning praise for Allah and the Prophet along with discussions on community issues. Supplications and special remembrances culminate the ceremony, according to Mohammad research. 

The following gift ceremony, a public display, individualizes celebrations through poetry, music and dance. Mohammad emphasizes studying the type, content and messages within poetic offerings, underscoring their importance in contextualizing Mawlid.

Mawlid in Ethiopia emerges not only as religious observance but as a harmonious fusion of faith, traditions and cultural unity. Menzuma melodies, rhythmic coffee rituals and poetic expressions unite to form a symphony resonating with Ethiopia’s rich heritage.

Mohammad hopes such cultural features will aid in its recognition by UNESCO.

At Addis Ababa University, Vice President of Administration and Student Services, Abdurezak Mohammed (PhD) expresses excitement over ongoing research to register Mawlid with UNESCO.

On December 27, religious leaders, culture and tourism officials with other stakeholders convened at AAU to discuss the progress made in this regard.

“As a believer and member of an academic institution, Mawlid hold s significance amongst erhiopian Muslims, with the potential to be recognized on the global stage,” says Abdurezak.

The Addis Ababa Culture and Tourism Bureau underscored the need for further study on Menzuma, an entirely Ethiopian tradition.

Deputy Director Sertse Firesibhat highlighted the music’s intricate arrangements, citing influences across regions. With stalwarts like Tilahun Gesese and Lema Gebrehaiwet engaging the art form, Sertse calls for regular documentation and archiving to ensure its preservation.

Ethiopian Academy of Languages and Cultures expert Frehiwot Bayu (PhD) provides insight into the documentation work underway at Addis Ababa University.

Through numerous degree programs, publications and a focus on Mawlid’s traditional aspects, the institution significantly contributes to understanding this celebration, she says. According to Frehiwot, students have completed 10 bachelors, six masters and three PhD degrees on related topics. One book was also published, with 26 studies featured in various domestic and international journals.

Research centered on operational aspects of commemorating the Prophet Muhammad’s birth, she notes.

Samuel Tibebe (PhD) noted key criteria for UNESCO recognition, like visibility, community protection and national acknowledgement.

Since 1945, the organization has registered 730 cultural sites across 145 nations under tangible and intangible categories.

Ethiopia’s registered intangible heritage includes religious festivals like finding of the true cross (Meskel) and Epiphany (Timket), as well as unique traditions like Fiche Chembelala and Yeshewal Eid, which is celebrated mostly in Harar city.

Samuel says UNESCO evaluates ongoing rather than archaic cultures, and whether a country or its institutions recognize and safeguard prospective additions. “If it is not recognized by the country’s institutions, it will not be recorded.”

Each country can request the registration of only one cultural event every two years. In March, the recognized and community-sponsored events will be submitted for registration by completing various document questionnaires.

Samuel further notes that the Procession and Celebrations of Prophet Mohammed’s birthday (Mawlid) have already been registered in Sudan. However, the registration of intangible heritage is not a competitive process, and if the criteria are met, the registration process can be initiated. He mentioned that five different European countries have registered similar irrigation systems as intangible heritage elements, highlighting the diversity of registered elements worldwide.

Ambassador Ustaz Hassen Taju, a distinguished speaker with extensive knowledge in Islamic religion and a renowned writer, emphasized the importance of initiating a study on the Mawlid holiday during the gathering at AAU. The aim of the study is to provide support for its UNESCO recognition, recognizing the significance of the celebration of Mawlid in Ethiopia.

Mawlid holds a distinct place in Ethiopia, often referred to as “the land of the Abyssinians.” Its origins can be traced back to the fourth century, and Ethiopia’s unique role in embracing Islam ahead of other nations is a point of pride.

The festival serves a dual purpose: it narrates the story of the Prophet and provides for the needy, as highlighted by the Ambassador.

While some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, do not officially recognize Mawlid, Ethiopia stands out, fostering a deep connection with the Prophet. The celebration of Mawlid in Ethiopia dates back to the lifetime of the Prophet himself, showcasing the country’s pivotal role in the early spread of Islam.

Ethiopia’s historical acceptance of multiple faiths, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is emphasized, positioning the nation as a pioneer in religious inclusivity.

The cooperation of 14 Ethiopians who fought alongside the Prophet and the role of the Habesha people in recording his hadith (sayings) further exemplify Ethiopia’s unique and profound connection with Islam.

Menzuma’s significance in Mawlid celebrations, particularly within a society where literacy was limited, serves as a means of imparting knowledge about the life and history of the Prophet, thus preserving Ethiopia’s cultural and religious heritage, according to Ambassador Ustaz Hassen.

The academic endeavors, coupled with the rich cultural practices surrounding Mawlid, pave the way for a brighter future in safeguarding Ethiopia’s unique contributions to global heritage, the Ambassador stated.

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Video from Enat Bank Youtube Channel.

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